Your fridge is one of the most expensive and important appliances in your home and it'll (hopefully) last you upwards of 10 years. We've laid out a list of fridge buying essentials to help you choose the coolest fridge for your household.
How big is your household?
Based on the number of people using the fridge, you can use the following as a rule of thumb when choosing fridge capacity.
|Household size||Recommended volume||Price range|
|1–2 people||250–380L (1)||$429–$2399|
|5 or more||440L+ (2)||$1079–$5500+|
How to measure what size fridge you need
Make sure your measurements allow for some room at the sides, top and rear of your new fridge so it's got some space to vent heat from the motor.
If you don't allow for some wriggle room, you'll spend more in the long run as the fridge will need to work harder to keep cool. As a rule we allow at least 5cm on the sides and rear and 10cm on top by default, and we list manufacturer recommended clearances in our fridge reviews.
Take a tape measure to your front door and hallways while you're at it, and make sure you can actually get that shiny new fridge into your kitchen – especially if you're upsizing.
If you think you might need more freezer space than a fridge offers, you might want to check out our freezer buying guide to weigh up your options.
Freezer on the top (top mount)
If price, range, efficiency and value are your biggest concerns then a top mount fridge is for you.
- Cheapest fridge type to purchase.
- Cheapest fridge type to run.
- Wide range to choose from.
- You have to bend down to access the fridge, which is the most used compartment.
Freezer on the bottom (bottom mount)
Bottom mount fridges are all about convenience – and saving you from back pain.
- Logical fridge design – what you use most is at eye level.
- The freezer often has handy slide-out baskets.
- Range and variety of bottom mount fridges is growing.
- More expensive to buy than top mount fridges.
- Marginally more expensive to run than top mount fridges.
- Can be slower to chill, especially in the freezer.
Side-by-side (fridge next to freezer)
Plenty of space and extra features make side-by-side fridges great for entertainers or large families.
- Lots of features available, such as ice and water dispensers.
- Good for galley kitchens, thoroughfares or areas where you can't have a large swinging door.
- Good storage capacity.
- Best access for people in wheelchairs.
- Ice makers and water chillers can take up a lot of freezer space.
- Internal space is quite narrow and won't always fit a pizza box or frozen turkey.
- Large physical form takes up a lot of space and can't fit in a tight corner.
- Temperatures can be inconsistent between the top and bottom of the fridge.
French door (bottom mount freezer with a two door fridge)
French door fridges combine the convenience of a bottom mount fridge with good capacity and extra features.
- Lots of features available like ice and water dispensers.
- Good storage capacity.
- Both fridge and freezer are wide enough for large platters and bulk foods.
- All the benefits of a bottom mount fridge.
- Ice makers and water chillers can take up a lot of fridge space.
- Large physical form takes up a lot of space and can't fit in a tight corner.
- Costs more to buy.
Pigeon pair (separate, but matching upright fridge and freezer)
A pigeon pair combines plenty of storage capacity with more flexibility when it comes to placement.
- Can be kept separate (with the freezer in another part of house like the laundry or garage) which is great for small kitchens.
- Good storage capacity.
- Takes up more space overall.
Best small fridges
- Smaller fridges may be light on features and light on space, but they're also light on your wallet, both at the point of purchase and in terms of lifetime running costs.
- Some small fridges do offer features like chillers though, which are definitely worth looking out for.
- While small, budget fridges may not perform as well as their bigger brethren, that may not matter as their smaller capacity may mean you cycle through food more readily.
- The design of your kitchen may limit the size of the fridge you can fit. Make sure you measure carefully – both the fridge nook, and all the doorways you'll need to navigate your fridge through before hitting the shops.
- It's best to avoid really small fridges – in our experience they perform appallingly, even models from leading brands.
- One advantage of smaller fridges is there's less to go wrong – you're never going to have trouble with your icemaker if your fridge doesn't have one.
Best large fridges
- Large fridges will tend to offer more features than smaller ones, but they come at a cost – think carefully about what features are of value to you (chillers) and what features aren't (Wi-Fi connectivity).
- Don't just think about total capacity, you should consider how useable the layout of a large fridge is for you, and what ratio of fridge to freezer space suits your needs.
- Bigger fridges tend to perform better than smaller ones, but it's still important to check the temperatures with a fridge thermometer and adjust them to 3 degrees in the fresh food compartment and minus 18 in the freezer for the optimum balance of food freshness and energy efficiency.
- You can always leave empty space in a fridge that's too big for your needs, but you can't make a small fridge bigger – so if there's any doubt over what size you need, get the bigger fridge.
- Bigger fridges use more energy by way of having more space to cool, but they also cost more to buy so the total cost of ownership can be exponentially greater than a small fridge – so don't go big for the sake of it.
Best fridges for big families
- Side-by-side fridges may seem like a good size but unfortunately we've found they're not great for temperature evenness and the shelves are often quite narrow.
- A French-door fridge has good storage capacity, and both the fridge and freezer are wide enough for large platters and bulk foods.
- Fridges with multi-use compartment, this improves the flexibility of the fridge – you can allocate extra freezer space or fridge space as you need it.
- A pigeon pair will give you a lot more room than a French door or side-by-side fridge, costing more but all the extra space may suit your lifestyle.
- Fridge with ice dispensers can take up almost 30% of the freezer capacity – so worth considering whether you really need one.
|Fridge size||Average capacity (L)||Average annual energy consumption (kWh)||Average annual running costs|
|Extra large (525L+)||642||538||$161.40|
Stainless steel fridges bring that sleek, professional look to your kitchen but can be prone to showing fingerprints and other marks. Look for matte or 'fingerprint-resistant' finishes if you don't want to be forever buffing away smudges, and expect to pay a little more if you like the stainless look.
Many high end stainless steel fridges offer a completely flat front, whereas most fridge doors are slightly curved. Many of them also aren't magnetic, which means no more fridge magnets – but then again why would you want to cover up such a beautiful appliance anyway?
White fridges are easier to keep clean than their stainless steel counterparts, and tend to be a little cheaper to buy, saving you money as well as time spent buffing fingerprints from the finish, and despite the popularity of stainless steel fridges there's plenty of options available if you want a white one.
Retro styled fridges in bright colours are increasingly popular as a statement appliance and combine a vintage look with modern fridge internals, but remember that your fridge is a long-term investment that will probably see several trends come and go. Consider how you'll feel about it in 10 years' time, and how it will suit a new kitchen if you move house.
Black appliances are back, with several manufacturers offering black, charcoal or dark finish fridges. A black fridge is a modern alternative to a plain white appliance but without the fingerprint showing tendencies of stainless steel, but they can be a little imposing and may make your kitchen itself seem darker.
The latest development in fridge design means eschewing metal altogether and using glass. No, this doesn't mean a clear window into your fridge, but you'll often get a wide range of colours to choose from. Aside from aesthetics, glass won't show fingerprints quite as readily as a shiny stainless steel fridge, and you may have discreet controls which light up through the glass when in use but are all but invisible when dormant.
Glass means the front of your fridge will be perfectly flat, not curved, and your favourite fridge magnets may not stick, but why would you want to cover up such a beautiful appliance anyway?
More energy stars means more savings
Your fridge contributes up to 8% of your energy bill so choosing an efficient one will save you money. While larger fridges will use more energy overall than smaller ones, the energy star ratings help you compare relative energy efficiency.
The star rating will let you know how your fridge performs based on its size, but the number on the energy rating label gives you the raw figures, which you can use to calculate how much your fridge will cost to run by multiplying it by your current energy cost per kilowatt hour.
One model in our most recent fridge test costs as little as $57 per year to run, while some more expensive fridges cost up to $195 per year to run. Our fridge reviews include a 10-year running cost for each model, so you can easily compare how much each one will cost you over the lifetime of the fridge.
Learn more about energy star ratings and how energy-efficient your fridge is.
A big fridge uses more electricity than a smaller one, so don't buy bigger than you need, and make sure you set it at the right temperature. Too warm and your food might spoil prematurely, but too cold (particularly in the freezer) and you'll use way more energy than you need to for no benefit.
Fresh food should generally be kept between 0°C and 4°C, while the chiller compartment should be close to 0°C. In order to keep your frozen food safe, aim to set your freezer to -18°C.
With improvements in fridge technology, tightening of the regulations and degradation of insulation over time, a newer fridge is likely to be far more energy-efficient than an old one, which means it'll use less energy and be cheaper to run. While it's hard to work out the exact point where it makes economic and environmental sense to replace an old fridge instead of repairing it, you should definitely weigh up the price of a new fridge and the reduced running costs against the cost of repairing your old one when the repair or replace decision comes up.
Avoiding food wastage
Australia loses $2.3 million worth of food to spoilage every year, with each household 'throwing away' the equivalent of 312kg of food per person annually. You might think you've made a savvy purchase by bagging a cheap, heavily discounted fridge, but it could be a false economy if you find your food's spoiling before you can eat it. You'll spend far more replacing it over the life of the fridge than you saved when you scooped up a 'bargain' appliance.
Planning what you're going to cook and when, and then writing a shopping list will help minimise food wastage, but after meal planning, choosing a fridge that will keep your food fresher longer is the best way to minimise your food waste and save money on groceries.
Water and ice dispenser
- A dispenser located on the outside of the door saves you constantly opening and closing the fridge for cold drinks.
- Some water and ice dispensers need to be connected to a tap – an additional plumbing installation expense.
- With others, water can be dispensed from a container inside the door. This convenience has a trade-off though, and dispensers can take up almost 30% of your freezer space.
- Some water and ice dispensers also require replacement water filters – an additional periodic expense.
- A good crisper saves you having to put your fruit and veg in plastic bags. The compartment should be well sealed to keep vegetables fresh.
- It should also be easy to remove for cleaning.
- Check that the fridge's air outlets don't blow onto it, as this will dry your food out faster.
- If you store large volumes of fruit and veg, look for a fridge with more than one crisper.
- Your crisper should be at least 45cm wide to fit celery, leeks and other long vegetables.
- Make sure the handles aren't too high or too low and that the door opens in the right direction for your kitchen. Some models have reversible doors.
- Also make sure you can open the fridge doors easily and comfortably. Remember, a display fridge in store that's not plugged in will be easier to open than a fridge that's turned on.
- If you or someone in your household find fridges frustrating then check out our guide to choosing an accessible fridge for people with disabilities, vision impairment or cognitive impairment.
- Look for two separate temperature controls. A single control sets both the freezer and the fresh food compartment, so you can't adjust one without affecting the other. Some electronic fridges have better independent controls.
- Some fridges have a 24-hour memory that monitors door openings and pre-cools the fridge before a period of heavy use – such as when the kids get home from school or you're preparing dinner.
- Some fridges automatically manage defrosting to suit conditions.
- Some fridges let out a warning beep if you leave the door open too long, or forget to close it properly.
How to set up your fridge's temperature control settings
- Check your fridge is set to the recommended settings from the manual.
- Use a thermometer to measure internal temperature (in summer and winter).
- Adjust your settings to 3°C for the fridge, and -18°C for the freezer.
- Maintain good airflow inside the fridge to avoid hot and cold spots.
- Shelves ought to be easy to remove and replace for cleaning or adjustment. Does the range of shelf positions suit your needs? For example, can you stand soft drink or wine bottles in the door shelves? Split shelves can be handy for this.
- Shelves may be made from moulded plastic or safety glass. Some shelves feature raised lips or other features to help stop spilt milk or other liquids spreading throughout your whole fridge.
Rollers and adjustable feet
- Rollers are useful for easy moving (such as when cleaning behind the fridge).
- Four rollers are better than two, provided they have brakes or adjustable feet to secure the fridge and stop it from escaping.
- Adjustable feet (or rollers) are necessary for ensuring your fridge is level from left to right. The front being slightly elevated from the rear means your door will close more easily, or possibly even on its own if you leave it open.
- A slightly warmer area of the fridge, convenient for keeping butter and hard cheeses slightly soft.
- Some fridges also have a lockable storage compartment, which is great if you need to keep medicines refrigerated but safely out of reach of small children.
Chiller (meat compartment)
- This compartment stores meat, fish and poultry (fresh or cooked) at a safe temperature, keeping it fresher for longer. Chiller temperature should be close to zero and ideally it should have a separate temperature control.
- Located close to the cold-air outlets, this feature is handy for cooling drinks quickly. However, food left there too long may freeze.
Keep kids safe and choose a child-friendly fridge with features such as:
- water and ice dispensers with child-proof settings
- a lockable medicine compartment
- temperature controls with a child lock.
- Whether or not fridge noise is an issue depends on your kitchen layout, whether it's open plan, and its proximity to living and sleeping areas.
- We list normal operating noise levels in our fridge reviews, so you can easily compare between models if noise is a concern for you.
- Fridges typically operate at around 35 decibels (dBA) during normal running, which is the equivalent of a whispered conversation (read how to avoid hearing damage to learn more about the decibel scale).
- However, they can also make a variety of strange noises due to compressor startup, automatic defrosting, electrical fans, and even from materials expanding and contracting as they change temperature. This is normal, but may be more noticeable in models which are quieter during normal running.
- Look for smooth, easy to clean surfaces with no awkward corners or dirt-trapping areas.
- Check how easy it is to remove and replace crisper drawers and shelves for when they require cleaning.
An important consideration when setting up a new fridge is where to put things in it. Contrary to what you might think, the temperature will vary across different areas of your fridge, and will be cooler in some parts and warmer in others. You should give consideration to these areas and store different foods in the most appropriate locations, for example, meat goes in the chiller or the coldest part of the fridge, butter goes in the warmer dairy compartment (so it's easier to spread), and veggies should be stored in the crisper.
A fridge thermometer is a handy tool for identifying warmer and cooler areas in your new fridge, and you can see our handy guide to loading a fridge for more information on what goes where.
Which fridge brand is the most reliable?
Most people expect their new fridge to last at least 10 years, but not all of them do. And with a typical manufacturer's warranty lasting only about two years, dealing with a faulty fridge can be a serious annoyance.
CHOICE's annual fridge reliability survey (available exclusively to CHOICE members) asks thousands of members about their experiences with their own fridges – what they think of them and how they've held up over time. With 7100 responses, our 2021 survey gives you a really good indication of how various fridge brands stack up over time – something we can't test in our labs.
As for which brands perform best in our lab tests, CHOICE members can also find out which brand we've crowned the best fridge brand and how the other brands stack up in comparison.
Will your new fridge keep your food cold and safe?
Keeping food cold and safe for long periods is the whole point of a fridge, but not all fridges are equal in this regard. That's why we include a food safety score in our test results. Our food safety score is made up of three elements which impact how well a fridge will keep your food: fluctuations, uniformity, and ambient change. We don't recommend any fridge with a food safety score under 55%.
- Fluctuation score: We measure how much the temperature fluctuates as the compressor starts and stops. Stable temperatures are better for food storage, and the higher the score, the more stable the temperature.
- Uniformity score: We rate how uniform the temperature is throughout the entire fridge, without warmer or colder areas. The higher the score, the more even the temperature.
- Ambient change score: We assess how well a fridge responds to ambient temperature changes, such as when going from summer to winter, or a warm day to a cool night. The higher the score, the better the fridge copes.
A poor food safety score doesn't mean food will go bad instantly, but it does mean it won't last as long, so you'll waste more food and money due to spoilage. And while it's tempting to assume new fridges will keep your food safe, nearly 30% of fridges we've tested scored less than 55% for food safety.
One of the biggest environmental impacts of a fridge, or any number of appliances really, comes at the point of changeover – the old fridge needs to be disposed of, and its replacement consumes materials, energy and carbon miles in its manufacture and delivery.
You might be tempted to keep your old fridge in the garage to store beer and assorted beverages when you upgrade, but from an energy and environmental perspective that's bad news – old fridges are less efficient and more energy hungry than newer ones, and unlike the kitchen, the temperatures in your garage or shed can fluctuate dramatically, making the fridge work harder. In fact, your second fridge may cost you the equivalent of a couple slabs of beer each year just to run it.
The good news is, much of your old fridge is readily recyclable – even the refrigerant can be captured and recycled. You can take your old fridge to a scrap metal dealer (but make sure you call ahead first to confirm), or try and sell it on the second-hand market if it's still working. But you can make life easy for yourself by buying from a retailer that will take your old fridge away for you when they deliver your new one. Some even offer free delivery as well.